California school districts that recently won a federal first-of-its-kind waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act are among the fiercest opponents (along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) of a state legislative proposal that would dramatically scale back the numbers of students who are tested in math and English/language arts next spring.
If approved by the full legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill, known as AB 484, would mean that California education officials would scrap most of their longtime assessment system, known as STAR, for the 2013-14 school year. Instead, the state would use field tests being designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups of states that are developing tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. No results from those tests would be used for accountability purposes.
The proposal is backed by Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent in California, who argues that students should no longer be tested under the old assessment system as districts are transitioning to the common core. But the measure has put the state in a major showdown with the U.S. Department of Education, which has warned California officials that they would likely lose millions of dollars in federal Title I money if they don’t test all students as required by federal law.
On the home front, the Los Angeles schools chief, John Deasy, and most of his peers who lead other large districts that are part of the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, are urging lawmakers and Brown to have the bill amended.
As currently written, the bill calls for the state to pay only for students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 to take one of the two tests. That means districts that want students tested in both subjects would be on the hook to pay for what the state won’t. And districts that don’t think they have the technology capacity to offer the Smarter Balanced field tests—which will be administered online—can opt not to have any students tested.
That’s what leaders in the Los Angeles, Fresno, and other CORE districts are most furious about. Testing only a portion of students is unfair, they say, and asking districts to dig into their own coffers to pay for it isn’t right either.
For Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, with more than 640,000 students, footing the bill for all its students to be tested would be around $1.7 million, Deasy said in an interview on Tuesday.
“I will be committed to going to my board and asking for the money,” Deasy said. “And then I will ask my board to bill the state for it. If they don’t reimburse us, we’d have to look at legal action.”
Deasy, who supported the state’s original idea of using the Smarter Balanced field tests in lieu of the old system and to not use the results for accountability purposes for one year, changed his mind after the terms of the bill were changed so that not all students would be tested in both subjects at state expense.
“It should be complete access for everyone,” Deasy said. “Are we going to accept that kids in Pacific Palisades get to be tested in math, but kids in East Los Angeles don’t? That’s not right.”
Deasy said he was speaking for his fellow superintendents in other CORE districts, which include Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland, and Long Beach.
UPDATED: Chris Steinhauser, the longtime superintendent in Long Beach, clarified for me today that he is on record as supporting AB 484. (The California Department of Education released a statement of support from him.) While Steinhauser said he philosophically agrees that the state should pay for all students to take both tests, Long Beach is supporting the measure for the “more important reason” of getting rid of the outdated state tests that don’t align with the common standards and using the new Smarter Balanced field tests, he said.
Steinhauser also said that he would dip into state-provided funds for common-core professional development and implementation to help cover the costs for testing students the state won’t pay for.
“I’m going to give the tests to everyone, no matter what,” he said.
As to what the legislation might mean for how the CORE districts can comply with the waiver they were granted by Duncan last month, Deasy said he didn’t know.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.